Coping with cancer one crack at a time

Since my husband was diagnosed with cancer, people have treated us differently. It’s almost as if others think we’re delicate and could break at any minute. Many people have told me that I’m very strong and I’m handling this very well. I think people expect me to behave like a worried wife and be someone that I’m not.

Am I supposed to act differently now that my husband is sick? Should I quit school and work so I can sit at home and cry? What exactly would that accomplish? It’s not like me to behave like that. Just because my husband is sick doesn’t mean I’m a different person.

As a matter of fact, Mike hasn’t changed either. Yes, he’s weaker and more tired now. But he’s still the same person he’s always been. Several jaws dropped when Mike threatened to smack someone with his chemo pump. Apparently, it’s not OK to joke about cancer—even if you’re the one going through it.

Just because we’re dealing with a serious disease like cancer doesn’t mean that everything and everyone around us must be serious. If someone was sarcastic before, they’ll still be sarcastic after getting sick. Health changes don’t change your personality.

When Mike was in the hospital for the colon blockage, before she found out he had cancer, my sister wanted to ask him if the doctors found the gerbil yet. Afterward, she was afraid he would be offended. (He wasn’t; he thought it was hilarious.)

Making horrible tasteless jokes has always been my way—and Mike’s way—of coping. Maybe it seems cruel, but the other day, when Mike said, “I don’t like having cancer,” I laughed at him. I explained that no one actually wants to have cancer. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks cancer sounds like a lot of fun.

One of my coworkers, who has a similar sick sense of humor, wanted to get Mike a face mask, but everyone told her that was mean. Many people seem to forget that old saying: Laughter is the best medicine.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with adversity. Just because that way may be different than mine or Mike’s doesn’t mean the way we’re doing it is wrong.

Obviously, I’m worried. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’m dealing with it my way. I just don’t see how sitting around moping helps.

Even though we may joke, it doesn’t mean we’re making light of the situation. We are both fully aware of the seriousness of cancer. When necessary, we are capable of being serious. Most of the time, it’s easier to laugh at the situation.

Go ahead; make jokes at Mike’s expense. He won’t get offended; he’ll laugh along with you. If you want to offend him, treat him like he’s on his deathbed. We aren’t treating his sickness like it’s the end; it’s just a temporary road block. And we’re dealing with it the way that works best for us.

Originally published in issue 198, April 29, 2005

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Visit our new web site

It's official! We are WNC Health Advocates.
Please visit our new web site, Visit WNC Health Advocates
The new name reflects what we do -- advocate for health care for everyone and help people access and navigate our current health care system.
While we still hold onto the memory and the generous spirit of Mike Danforth, we need people to be able to see our name and understand who we are.

Help Life o’ Mike

We need your help now more than ever. Your tax-deductible donation will help us get Patient Pals and Family Friends to more people in need of peer support. Please consider a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one.
Donate here or mail your donation to Life o' Mike, PO Box 1213, Asheville, NC 28802.

Patient Pals & Family Friends

Life o' Mike has a peer support program for people with one or more serious or chronic medical issues or disabilities.

We aim to reduce isolation and fear among people who have conditions, including psychiatric illness, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, mild dementia or other cognitive disorder or disability, thereby reducing depression and complications as people learn to improve self-management of their medical conditions.

Patient Pals help alleviate feelings of isolation and frustration. They can help people develop a list of questions to ask the doctor and then accompany the person to the doctor to make sure all the questions are answered, taking notes to be sure the person understands the doctor’s answers.

Our trained volunteers also accompany their “Pals” to art exhibits, movies and walks outdoors, meet for coffee, call to check in and more.

Our Pals have experienced weight loss, improvement in diabetes, HIV, psoriasis, depression and more, just because they have someone who cares about them. Some relationships develop into longer-term friendships; other Pals move on to more independent lives.

Family Friends are there to help caregivers and other family members grow into their new role.

We need volunteers, who are asked to donate a minimum of one hour a week. Training is free and includes information on active listening, ways to help and when to know more help is needed.

And of course, we need funding.

To learn more, call Leslie Boyd at 828-243-6712 or e-mail

Life o’ Mike honors Joe Eblen

Life o' Mike presented its first Michael T. Danforth Community Service Award to Joe Eblen at a luncheon on June 8, in the Friendship Hall of First Congregational Church, 20 Oak St., Asheville.
Joe, seen here with Leslie Boyd, left, and his wife, Bobbie, has spent his life helping children and families, both as a coach and game official for more than 60 years, and as founder of Eblen Charities.

Start From Seed

Life o' Mike has a new program- Start from Seed (SFS).
SFS is a volunteer doula program aimed at providing non-medical, comprehensive support to low income, high-risk women and families of Buncombe County focusing on three areas:

1. We help new doulas with certification and training in return for their participation as a volunteer doula for SFS

2. We mentor volunteer doulas with their first few clients

3. Our volunteer doulas provide birth and postpartum doula services to low income, high risk moms, providing support and tools to empower them as a new parent.

A birth doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; a postpartum doula provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Start from Seed clients are referred to us from the Buncombe County Department of Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership Program, Western North Carolina Community Health Services, and Mission Hospital. The Program is intended and designed for growing clients’ inner strength and helping them gain empowerment to help them cope with the emotional, physical and mental challenges of childbirth, labor, and motherhood.

Our new moms and their infants have many needs. If you would like to help them get off to a good start, please visit our Start from Seed web site: Start from Seed, or call Program Director Chelsea Kouns at 804-814-9946.

Events in the community

Free birth and labor classes

Peaceful Beginning Doula Services holds free birth forums, Peaceful Birth, 6:30-8 p.m. the last Thursday of every month (except November) at Spa Materna, 640 Merrimon Ave., above The Hop, in Asheville.
All are welcome, expectant women and their partners are encouraged to attend anytime during their pregnancy. We also encourage doulas and other maternal/child professionals to attend and share in the discussions. The forums are "birth circle" style, focusing on normal birth which follows the Lamaze Six Care Practices for Healthy Birth. The forums are led by certified and experienced educators.

NAMI Family-to-Family Class

NAMI of Western Carolina holds 12-week classes for families and caregivers of individuals with a severe mental illness 6-8:30 p.m. Mondays at Charles George VA Medical Center, 1100 Tunnel Road in Asheville. The course covers major mental illnesses and self-care. Registration required. Info at 828-299-9596 or

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